What is it about trains that seems to send anything and anyone associated with them in, close to or communicating with Waukesha County off the rails?
In the 1990’s, Waukesha County Executive Dan Finley and the County Board there vetoed further study of a light rail system that would have principally served Milwaukee County.
Gov. Tommy Thompson, pumped up by his handlers as pro-rail but more wedded to conservative talk radio that stands up for Waukesha, also joined in the surrender.
The result: no system in either county – with years of highway construction looming along the very corridors that light rail would have served. To say nothing of the option lost to shoppers, tourists, diners, conventioneers and visitors to the Third War, the Zoo and the Medical Complex.
Fast forward a few years: Scott Walker, Milwaukee County Executive, balked at an offer from Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett to split 50-50 the remaining $91.5 million not spent on the light rail system so Milwaukee could go ahead with a downtown trolley and Walker could plug in almost $46 million his county’s failing bus system.
Walker’s intransigence – he was instead listening to talk radio and eyeing potential gubernatorial primary votes in Waukesha County, so no wonder governing with stability has been such a problem – cost Milwaukee County and its bus system about $10 million, as the feds ordered a different division of the money and gave Milwaukee a 60% share.
Now you have Walker and fellow GOP gubernatorial candidate/train basher Mark Neumann, pandering to the righty railophobe vote, cynically vowing to violate federal transportation financing regulations by blocking the federally funded Midwest high-speed Amtrak train that would run from Milwaukee to Madison, perhaps with stops in Waukesha County.
I say perhaps because the state and Oconomowoc are having such a hard time communicating about a planned stop and station in that historic rail city that the state has cancelled it.
What is happening west of 124th St. when it comes to trains?
You know – if Brookfield and Oconomowoc are off the rail line map – the so-called ‘Waukesha stop" can be located at the Milwaukee County grounds, as Milwaukee County Clerk Joe Czarnezki has been suggesting, and high-speed trains can run even faster right through Waukesha County to Dane County and beyond.
James Rowen is a writer, a former reporter and a former mayoral staffer in both Madison and Milwaukee. He is the author of The Political Environment blog.